12: Contemporary Buddhism

Thurs., Aug. 21st, 09:00-12:30 | Fri., Aug. 22nd, 10:00-15:30

Demythologization as Modernization: Making Pure Land Buddhism Rational in 1920s Japan

Blum, Mark (University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA)

Beginning in 1941 Rudolph Bultmann began a movement in Christian theology that argued for the importance of removing myth from how we read the New Testament. Bultmann is explicit that his purpose is to clarify the true nature of Christian faith for modern man whose world view is determined by science, and that through what he called demythologization (Entmythologisierung) theologians can “purify” Christian teachings of its mythical elements in order to isolate its essential message, or kerygma. It appears to be a coincidence that a parallel movement had begun in Japan in the 1920s among philosophers of Pure Land Buddhism, specifically Yamazaki Ben’ei (1859-1920), Chikazumi Jōkan (1870-1940), Nonomura Naotarō (1871-1941), Kaneko Daiei (1881-1976), and Soga Ryōjin (1875-1971). These individuals were both highly disruptive and attractive to Buddhist intellectual and institutional circles in Japan, but as all of these Japanese-language materials remain untranslated to this day, we can assume that Bultmann and his community had no knowledge of these earlier developments and therefore were not influenced by them. This suggests that there was a common felt need to present a new hermeneutic in both Christianity and Buddhism wherein the rational and the mythic were in opposition and that the rational declared superior was perhaps a generic feature of the conflict between traditional religion and modernity in the mid-twentieth century among industrially advanced nations. As this aspect of contemporary Buddhism has received very little scholarly attention, this paper will attempt to move our understanding of this topic forward by presenting a critical analysis this particular movement in 1920s Japan.

Of particular interest in the Japanese context is the fact that the very word for “myth” (shinwa) had only recently been created as a translation of the European concept, and in the 1890s Kiyozawa Manshi had already argued that the proper way to understand “Buddha,” even as a salvific agent, should imply minimal transcendence. Among these thinkers, only Chikazumi spent enough time in the West to be influenced by it, so some degree of romanticization of Western society as “strong” or “advanced” as a result of its perceived degree of rationality may have been a factor. But the three thinkers who will be examined in most detail here will be Nonomura Naotarō, Kaneko Daiei, and Soga Ryōjin. Among this group, these were the men who had the greatest political difficulty with their religious institutions, all of them losing their jobs teaching at their respective Buddhist colleges at this time. In particular I will discuss A Critique of the Pure Land Teachings by Nonomura and The Idea of the Pure Land by Kaneko, for these works had the most far-reaching implications in this context.


Buddhist Mountains’ Plans for Stock Market Initial Public Offerings in China: Raising Money as Upāya-Kauśalya

Cheung, Kin (Temple University, Philadelphia, USA)

Since Emei Shan, one of the four famous Chinese Buddhist mountains, became a publicly traded stock in 1997, other Chinese Buddhist sites have made plans for their own IPOs to raise money, citing the need for maintenance and development. This has elicited sharp criticism by Chinese officials denouncing these actions as greed and against the spirit of Buddhism. There is a lack of scholarly attention towards this modern development in Chinese Buddhism, the plans of the other Chinese Buddhist mountains and Shaolin Monastery to join Emei Shan, and the implications and assumptions behind the rebukes of Chinese officials.

I investigate whether an argument can be made that this money raising enterprise may be read as a form upāya-kauśalya, or skillful means, instrumental to maintaining and spreading Buddhist dharma. I examine the use of upāya-kauśalya in the case of Vimalakīrti the merchant bodhisattva, and in the parables of the Lotus Sutra and the Nikayas to offer a response to Alicia and Daigan Matsunaga who characterize money raising and prosperity rituals as exclusively mundane goals, “hopefully [i.e. at best] viewed as upaya.” While the Matsunagas address a different context, their attitude towards fundraising in Buddhism resonates with those who criticize these IPO plans. If a case can be made for these actions as a form of upāya-kauśalya in a positive light, it will provide the Chinese Buddhist institutions with a doctrinal justification for raising capital. They can also respond to a related, more general critique launched by Slavoj Žižek directed towards the use of Buddhism as an “ideological supplement” in reinforcing what Glenn Wallis calls a “destructive form of capitalism.” While Žižek and Wallis have in mind “western Buddhism’s complicity in what is arguably a rabid capitalistic system,” the Chinese Buddhist mountains cannot escape the same criticism.

I explore a possible retort using Peter Singer’s arguments for maximizing one’s contribution to society. William Crouch founded a service that provides a utilitarian calculator of what job one should pursue to earn the most money and enjoy going to work, so that one can sustainably donate the most of one’s earning potentials. Case in point, Singer calls Bill Gates and Warren Buffet the “the most effective altruists in history” because although they were complicit in the capitalist system (the ethics of their business decisions aside) they were able to use the wealth they’ve accumulated skillfully, within a capitalist system where capital grows exponentially. Buffet and Gates were the wealthiest persons in the world in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and used their wealth towards donations and to set up altruistic foundations. Had they donated more money or focused less on earnings at the beginning of their careers, they would be less effective altruists. The Chinese Buddhist mountains can use Singer’s line of reasoning to argue their IPOs function as upāya-kauśalyas in an increasingly capitalistic global economy, where one efficient means of spreading Buddhist dharma is through growing capital. This will have implications on how to view the encounter of modern economies with sacred sites, in China and elsewhere, and on the more general subject of contemporary Buddhism’s encounter with money.


Monastic Migration and Buddhist Diaspora in America

Chowdhury, Chipamong (Buffalo, NY, USA)

Since 1965’s American immigration policy liberalization, the United States of America has been one of the transnational places for Theravāda monastic migration, relocation and resettlement. On May 16, 2011 the United Nations’ General Assembly Hall in New York City was crowded with over 300 Buddhist monks from different States of America to commemorate 2555-Sambuddhajayanti or Vesak celebration. Beyond doubt, the event was one of the largest social and religious events in contemporary American religious history. While the event symbolizes Buddhist transnationalism and their collective unity and strength, it suggests religious transformation and social changes in America.

The paper raises following questions: What makes these monks migrate to America? Are these monks making Americans better or are Americans making them better? What are the roles these diasporic monks play or create and recreate for the construction of a transbuddhist identity in a secularized American society? Based on 4 years of study on global monastic mobility and networks in America, this paper reflects on those questions and explores the understudied issue of monastic migration and their essential roles in diasporic Buddhist community for the continuity and strengthening of the Buddhist temple dimension in America. The paper will contribute to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of transbuddhist religious lives in the West.


The Rhetoric of Zen in Contemporary Korean Buddhism: Pomnyun’s Quote


The Zen tradition has its own unique rhetoric and one of Zen monks in Korea embodies and modifies this rhetoric in daily life today. The monk’s name is Pomnyun (1953~). Monk Pomnyun is the most influential monk in Korea today. He obtains fame outside Korea due to his social activities such as building schools for underprivileged people in undeveloped countries and helping starving North Korean people. However, his real value can be found in his unique teaching called “Pomnyun’s Quote.” A lecture consists in a question from the audience and Pomnyun’s answer. The topics of the questions are various but all are related to daily life: a concentration problem while studying, avoiding stress, getting a job, conflicts with other people, alcoholism, etc. It is modeled on the Buddha’s style of teaching, namely teaching in accordance with the spiritual capacities of the audience. Though the question may be the same, Pomnyun’s response would vary depending on the questioner’s quality. In the lecture, he listens to people’s problems carefully, leads the conversation with sharp questions, and lets people see the issue in different perspectives. His preaching looks like counseling in public, but this method is less time intensive than a counselor’s work. His dialogues can get an effective result in a shorter time because of his unique rhetoric based on Buddhist teachings.

When one analyzes his dialogues, one can finds that Pomnyun modifies the dialogues characteristic of the traditional Zen monk’s training and applies Buddhist doctrines to daily life. Pomnyun starts with a provocative response when he receives a question. For example, when an unmarried middle age man asked him a way to find a good wife, Pomnyun gave the suggestion of becoming a monk. At first glance, his response does not make sense. This provocative response is modeled on the traditional style of Zen conversation. It gives a mental shock to the questioner and evokes curiosity for the following explanation. While the audience and questioner listen to his explanation, the reason why he said that is revealed. The reason is usually insightful rather than understandable because his skillful rhetoric is supported by essential teachings of Buddhism, such as the principle of Karma, mind-only, emptiness, and no-self. Throughout the conversation, Pomnyun makes people see the real situation of the problem and accept it. Then he makes people notice that suffering occurs from self-centered perspectives. His conversation seeks to break this and most questioners accept the fact that they were confined to their own perspective. Of course, sometimes he argues with the questioner, and such dialogues are also great examples to see his rhetoric. Throughout this process people could heal a wounded mind, expand their perspective and move toward attaining enlightenment. Through analyzing his dialogues, we can examine how the modified Zen rhetoric may contribute to solve daily life problems.


The Sun of Tibetan Art Rises in the West: A Contribution to the Transmission of Traditional Tibetan Buddhist Art to the West in the 21st Century

Haderer, Elisabeth (Numata Zentrum für Buddhismuskunde, Hamburg, GER)

Since the destruction of Tibetan culture in the mid-20th century, the last master artists of the various Tibetan art traditions such as the 400 year-old Tibetan Karma Gardri (tib. karma sgar bris) tradition have been seeking to transmit their knowledge and craftsmanship also to Western artists so they would not get lost in the future.

In 2007, the Buddhist Institute of Tibetan Art (BINTA) has been founded in the Karma Kagyü Buddhist Center in Braunschweig/ Germany. One of the main goals of this institution is to maintain and receive the “authentic” principles and methods of traditional Tibetan art. The German artist and sculptress Petra Förster (born 1964) and her team have specialized in the art of building traditional Tibetan Buddhist clay sculptures. The Western artists learn from the Tibetan master artist Chhemet Rigdzin the skills of how to produce this ancient art (the first clay statues in Tibet date back to the 8th century) as well as the knowledge of the classical iconometric measurements of different Buddha forms and their iconography (attributes, hand gestures, facial expressions, color etc.). He was born in 1972 in Ladakh (North India) as the son of the very famous sculptor Nawang Tsering. At a very early age, Chhemet Rigdzin received artistic training at the Institute for Buddhist Studies in Choglamsar in Leh/ Ladakh.
One of the basic texts on iconometry Chhemet Rigdzin and his Western students use for their work is the Tibetan book “New Sun Self Learning Book on the Art of Tibetan Painting”, which has not been translated into a Western language yet.
The purpose of my paper is to make a first attempt to define the features of contemporary Tibetan Buddhist clay sculpture art by comparing them to some examples of traditional Tibetan Buddhist clay sculptures of the Western Tibetan regions. Besides that, I will also provide the translation of some passages of the above mentioned Tibetan text on art that is relevant for the work of the Western artists.


Transnational Interaction of Chinese Buddhist Congregations in Singapore – A Focus on the Liberation Rite of Water and Land (Shuilufahui 水陸法會)

Hsu, Yu Yin (National University of Singapore, SGP)

Scholars have widely debated on the significant changes of Buddhism in Singapore due to a complicated colonized, modernized, urbanized and globalized process in the last two decades (Kuo&Tong, 1995; Kuah, 2003; Ong, 2005; Chia, 2009; Hue, 2011). Reformist Buddhism in Singapore is being established as a modern rational religion after the 1970s (Kuah, 2003). Also, transnational activities are continuously and more obviously occurring through regular visits of Buddhist monks, donations and religious resources across borders. Besides considering religious connections, Wuthnow (2008) suggests that it is necessary to observe the effects on local congregations after ceremonies.

The traditional ceremonies, like the eight precepts (八關齋戒) and Fahui (法會), are still frequently being held in a great number of Chinese Buddhist temples in the 21st century. The most honorable ceremony for Chinese Buddhism each year, the liberation rite of water and land (水陸法會 Shuilufahui), needs to be discussed further. So far we know that the first congregation of Shuilu (水陸) took place for seven days in the Phor Kark See Monastery (普覺禪寺) at the end of 1966 after Singapore had declared independence one year earlier. To this day this congregation creates the main connection with worshippers and religious workers from other countries once a year. It would be interesting to know if this traditional ceremony in Singapore always followed the original rule, called “Yiguei” (儀軌), or gradually changed for certain reasons.

The aim of this research is to explore the procedure and changes of the liberation rite of water and land in present-day Singapore and further to examine the transnational interaction during the congregation. Fieldwork and personal interviews are both conducted in this study. A preliminary result indicates that noticeable changes are strongly related to the foreign religious workers.


Revival of Authentic Buddhist Tradition in Russia and the Role of the Tibetan Lama Geshe Thinley

Irina, Urbanaeva (The Institute for Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, Ulan-Ude, RUS)

An authentic Indo-Tibetan tradition of Mahayana began to spread in Russia since the 17th century in Buryatia, Kalmykia, Tuva and Altai. During communist rule, Buddhist monasteries were destroyed, Buddhist traditions in Russia have disappeared. Like many other religious denominations, at the end of the 20th century, Buddhism in Russia experienced a renaissance. But how to reanimate the lost tradition? Only two datsans were opened after the Second World War. They are the Ivolginsky datsan near Ulan-Ude (Buryatia) and the Aginsky datsan near the village Aginskoe (Trans-Baikal Territory). They were not monasteries, because they did not actually have monks. Several visits of the Dalai Lama to the Buryat and Kalmyk republics (1991, 1992, and 2004) helped speed up this process. The process of Buddhist revival has been sustained by Tibetan spiritual teachers whom the Dalai Lama specially delegated to Russia beginning in 1993. The most prominent among them is Geshe Jampa Thinley, who arrived in Russia as a spiritual representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Russia, Mongolia and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) in 1993. Now he spiritually supervises more than twenty Dharma centers that are located not only in traditional Buddhist ethnic areas of Russia but also in many urban centers that cater to both ethnic Buddhists and non-ethnic “converts.” Geshe Thinley is not only a highly educated expert in Buddhist Philosophy, who graduated from the CITI in Sarnath, India, and received a Geshe degree at the Sera monastery, South India, but he is also s a yogi, who has experience of a three-year retreat in Dharamsala under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the very great yogi, whose name is the venerable Panang Rinpoche. Geshe Thinley has also a karmic connection with Russia, as said by the Tibetan oracle. Although he was young, thirty years old, the Dalai Lama sent him to Russia, not famous teachers with extensive experience. I remember that Geshe Thinley said in 1993: “It is very good that people in Buryatia began to revive the ruined datsans and dugans (great and small temples) and build new temples. But it’s much more important to build a temple in the heart of the people. My job is to help people in Russia to build a temple of Dharma in their own heart”. Over twenty years Geshe Thinley made temples in the hearts of many thousands of ethnic and non-ethnic followers. He teaches a system of Je Tsonkhapa, which is a gradual path of Buddhist meditation on the basis of the highest philosophy of Madhyamika Prasangika, in the unity of the sutra and tantra. Actually his approach is non-sectarian. Today twenty Dharma centers of Geshe Thinley form the central Buddhist organization “Je Tsonkhapa”. This system has its own Publishing House and Retreat Center at Lake Baikal. Geshe Thinley and his students collaborate with scientists in the project “Buddhist Meditation”. What authentic Buddhism is, people in Russia know thanks to Geshe Thinley.


Becoming Lay Meditation Teachers in Contemporary Chinese Societies: Cases in Hong Kong and Taiwan

Lau, Ngar-sze (ISCA, University of Oxford, Oxford, GBR)

This paper examines the role played by lay meditation teachers in promoting the recent meditation movement in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Although modernism of Chinese Buddhism has been started under the notion of humanistic Buddhism since early Twentieth Century by Venerable Taixu and some lay reformers, meditation practices have never played a key role in the series of reforms. Nevertheless, with the influence of the Buddhist revival and Buddhist modernism in Theravada Buddhist countries, such as Sri Lanka (Bond 1988; Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988) and Burma (Jordt 2007), transnational meditation practices have been transmitted rapidly to Chinese societies such as Hong Kong and Taiwan in the past two decades with the context of modernisation and globalisation. These transnational meditation practices are from various traditions including Thai forest tradition, vipassanā meditation from Burmese tradition and globalized secularized mindfulness-based programmes such as MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Programme) and MBCT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy) from the West. Not only scriptures and books on meditation were translated to Chinese from Pāl̥i or English, but also talks and retreats were frequently organised, and transnational meditation centres were built. Lay meditation teachers have been involved in changing Buddhism by localizing and promoting the newly transmitted meditation practices. George Bond (2003) argues that the emergence of lay meditation groups have challenged the traditional authority by creating new forms of sectarianism in Sri Lanka. However, drawing on fieldwork done as a participant observer in Hong Kong and Taiwan, in this paper I will argue how, in the Chinese context, the lay meditation teachers have constructed their new legitimized identity from the established local Buddhist authority, though some female teachers have taken leading roles. Besides, with reference to the discussion about the decontextualisation and recontextualisation of Asian religious practices (Schedneck 2012), I will also demonstrate how the established Chinese Buddhist authority has tried to gain social legitimacy from the globalised meditation practices, related to science and health. Furthermore, by comparing the similarities and differences of Hong Kong and Taiwan, political, economic and cultural factors which contribute to the changes of Buddhism will be explored. This paper may shed light on the discussion of future development of Buddhism in Chinese societies.


Bond, George D. 2003. The Contemporary Lay Meditation Movement and Lay Gurus in Sri Lanka. Religion, 33, 23-55.
Gombrich, R. and G. Obeyesekere. 1988. Buddhism transformed: religious change in Sri Lanka. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jordt, Ingrid. 2007. Burma's mass lay meditation movement: Buddhism and the cultural construction of power. Athens: Ohio University Press.
Schednect, Brooke. 2013. The Decontextualization of Asian religious practices in the context of globalization, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, Spring, 36-53.


Development of Buddhism in Latvia: Past and Present

Laudere, Marika (Daugavpils University, Daugavpils, LVA)

During the 20th century, knowledge of Buddhism became available to a larger number of people via the gradual spread into new areas of the world, particularly into the West. Regarding this, Latvia is not an exception. The first Buddhist ideas were already known here in the early 20th century, especially in the 1920s, when the first Buddhist monk in the Baltic States, Karlis Tennisons (1873 - 1962) was active in Riga for a while. Despite his activities, Buddhism did not generate a big interest among a wider part of the society.


Only at the end of the 1980s, when interest towards eastern religious ideas started to increase, Buddhism became attractive for some groups of society in Latvia, particularly among the younger generation. This resulted in the creation of the first legally acting Buddhist groups in the early 1990s, which became possible due to the restoration of independence of Latvia in 1991. At present several Buddhist organizations are established in Latvia.


Analysis presented in this paper is a part of a broader FP7 collaborative research project ‘Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement’ (MYPLACE) on young people’s social participation. The paper provides a summary of findings from fieldwork on free Tibet movement in Latvia where people from different Buddhist groups are involved. The paper will examine the main historical periods of Buddhism development in Latvia. Secondly, an overview of existing Buddhist organizations in Latvia will be given. Whereas Buddhism in Latvia is mainly associated with the existence of Buddhist organizations, the main emphasis of this paper will be on the activities made by them (internal, social and political), the number of which has increased since the beginning of 21st century.


The Buddhism and Travels of Trebitsch Lincoln, ‘The Greatest Adventurer of the 20th Century’*

Máthé, Veronika (ELTE Social Sciences/KRE Néderlandisztika, Budapest, HUN)

Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch Lincoln was supposed to become a rabbi in Paks, Hungary, but he lived as a Presbyterian missionary in Canada, as an Anglican priest and a British MP, then as an international spy travelling around the world, as a Buddhist novice in Sri Lanka and finally as an abbot of a Buddhist temple in Shanghai under the name Chao Kung. He had close and controversial connections to the Theosophical Society and to two of the prominent German Buddhists of his time: Georg Grimm and Martin Steinke. He dedicated his book Dawn or Doom of Humanity to Miklós Horthy, Governor of Hungary, in the hope of returning to his homeland and founding a monastery there.

Based on his essays, biographies and contemporary newspaper articles I discuss his travels and show how his view on Buddhism was shaped not only by his travels to Sri Lanka and China but also by his encounters with Buddhists in Northern America and Western Europe. I demonstrate that Trebitsch/Chao Kung considered himself a prophet who would introduce ‘the West’ to the Buddha’s teachings, so a part of his travels (mostly in Germany and Canada) consisted of public lectures on Buddhism, with the aim to collect disciples who would join him in his monastery in Shanghai. Finally I show how his life and mythical image have influenced the development of Buddhism in Hungary.

* Allusion to the title of Trebitsch’s autobiography Das größte Abenteuer des XX. Jahrhunderts? Die Wahrheit über mein Leben (1931, Zürich: Amalthea Verlag).


The Ritual Use of Music in U.S. Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Communities

Mitchell, Scott (Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, USA)

In this paper, I present preliminary conclusions of an ongoing research project examining the ritual use of music in U.S. Jōdo Shinshū communities. Shin Buddhist ritual music is generally performed during a weekly congregational service and includes both chanting texts in Sino-Japanese as well as a style of music generally referred to as gāthā. Gāthā are musically similar to both North American Protestant Christian hymns as well as Japanese sanbutsuka, a type of religious folk music which was itself influenced by Western music styles during the Meiji period; and today gāthā are performed in a wider variety of musical genres. My study focuses on the continual development of gāthā, the ritual function this music performs in Shin Buddhist communities, and speculates on the implications of this music on the development of North American Shin Buddhist communities. I argue, following on Rappaport's articulation of the canonical and indexical aspects of ritual, that gāthā function indexically to allow for creative re-articulation of Shin Buddhist doctrine and practice.

In the proposed paper, I will present a brief overview of ongoing fieldwork, interviews and oral histories, and archival research before focusing on the Sunday Dharma Services where gāthā are performed. Here I will detail the ritual context in which members of the community collectively enact individual compositions. That individual compositions — songs composed primarily by lay members in a variety of musical genres and representing a wide range of viewpoints — are sung by the community collectively suggests that messages and meanings encoded in the songs become communal property, so to speak, and represent the intersection of individual orientation and collective understanding of Shin Buddhist teachings.

This analysis is based in part on Rappaport's seminal work wherein he defines ritual as “the performance of more or less invariant sequences of formal acts and utterances not entirely encoded by the performers” (Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, 1999: 24). He draws a distinction within ritual performance between the canonical — acts whose meaning is encoded by reference to “ultimate sacred postulates” — and the indexical — acts that are self-referential in nature, the realm of individual performances of the ritual. The indexical takes into consideration local circumstances, changing tastes or necessities. And it is the interaction between the indexical and the canonical that makes ritual “work.” The confidence communities have in the efficacy of ritual “is contingent upon the association of the indexically transmitted pledge with messages borne by the liturgy's invariant canon” (ibid., 58). Using this framework, I suggest that it is in the singing of songs that we can find individual Buddhists creatively renegotiating Shin Buddhist attitudes and orientations both historically and in the contemporary scene. This creative renegotiation draws on multiple sources of inspiration, pushes the boundaries of the tradition, and necessarily alters the borders of the community, allowing for the influx of new ideas and orientations not traditionally thought of as either Japanese American or Jōdo Shinshū.


The Aesthetics of Asoke Ascetics

Ritchie, Robekkah (Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, GER)

The Asoke Buddhist centres and teachings have come to be known throughout Thailand over the past few decades as communities have emerged across the country. Political activity and breaking away from mainstream norms has also led the Asoke to be a unique expression of Buddhism within contemporary Thai culture. Currently nine centres exist across Thailand consisting of varying monastic and lay communities and also housing schools, health centres, vegetarian restaurants, stores, organic agricultural production and other community resources. Based on recent ethnographic work at Asoke centres, my research explores contemporary practices of the Asoke monastics and their relationship, understanding and expression of the body along with the visual presentation and outward appearance (in terms of style and colour of robe, hair etc.). This exploration discusses the Asoke definition of the body, the monastic’s use of the Vinaya and their daily practices, including meditations. Unique practices within the Asoke community will also be considered, such as their strict vegetarianism and their regular practice of doing bodily cleanses. In terms of the visual aesthetics within the communities, both prominent features of the centres and of the residents will be discussed. Asoke has developed its own specific representation of the Buddha and also commissions artworks specifically for its centres, with both religious and political messages embedded within. The presence of preserved corpses and graphic images of disease and death are also on display in many monastic dwellings to inspire reflection on somatic form. In regard to the appearance of the monastics themselves, since 1991, after the excommunication of the Asoke community from the mainstream monastic order of Thailand in 1990, the Asoke monastics have adopted dark brown robes (in contrast to the typical orange colour seen in Thailand) and have stopped shaving their eyebrows (another distinguishing feature of Theravada monastics). The Asoke communities have also redefined the status of women renunciates (who also wear dark brown with a grey outer robe) causing a reevaluation of the status of Mae Chis within Thailand. With this work, I intend to further contribute to the discussion of contemporary Buddhist practices and the evolution thereof, women's roles in monastic communities, and body concepts, lending my specified subject matter to cover various areas of interest.


Neo-Zen and Buddhist Identity in Contemporary Northern Vietnam

Soucy, Alexander (Saint Mary's University, Halifax, NS, CAN)

This paper will examine the increase in popularity of Zen Buddhism in Vietnam, particularly since the beginning of the twenty-first century. It will hypothesise that this popularity is a result of converging discourses of modernity and legitimate practice (vs. superstition) that have come about because of the globalisation of Buddhism. Zen Buddhism has historically had an association with aristocracy and intellectuals in Vietnam. While the association with aristocracy has long ended, Zen has continued to have a positive association with the elite. It was rediscovered during the reform period and characterised as central to Vietnamese Buddhist history and identity. It was popularised in the 1960s in South Vietnam with the translation of DT Suzuki's works. Today, it is associated with a new transnational intellectual elite. Its popularity today lies in its redefinition of Buddhism as a post-enchantment religiosity that draws stark distinctions between a modern, doctrinal and almost secular approach to Buddhism, while condemning former Pure Land practices and beliefs as superstitious, backwards and outdated. However, it is not necessarily the intellectual content of these discourses that attract Buddhists to Zen in Vietnam today. Instead, this paper will argue, often at the root of involvement with Zen groups and participation in Zen activities are issues of identity and prestige among peer groups that come through association with this elite tradition. In other words, today's popularity in large part lies not in the content of Zen teachings, or in the rigours and benefits of contemplative practice, but in the aura that surrounds Zen. The data for this paper comes from ethnographic research conducted at a Zen centre on the outskirts of Hanoi between 2004 and 2013.


Buddhist Identity, Animal Ethics and Islamaphobia in Modern Sri Lanka

Stewart, James (University of Tasmania, Hobart, AUS)

Since the end of the civil war in 2009, there has been mounting conflict in Sri Lanka as Sinhalese nationalists target Muslim minorities. These nationalist groups regard themselves as defenders of Buddhism who want to restore the supposed ailing state of Buddhism across the country. In this paper I will focus on the role that Sinhala Buddhist animal welfare groups play in promoting this type of discourse. I will look at movements such as Bŏdu Bala Sĕnā (Buddhist Strength Force) and Sinhala Rāvaya (Voice of the Sinhala People) and their association with the halāl abolitionist cause. I will also discuss the case of Bowatte Indaratana Thera who committed suicide by immolation as a way to protest the slaughter of cattle. Finally, I will discuss data obtained from fieldwork I conducted in Sri Lanka in 2011 that further reveal the extent that animal ethics and anti-Muslim rhetoric intersect. I will argue that these cases highlight the way that animal welfarism has been co-opted into a narrative about what constitutes good Buddhist behaviour and that this idealised conduct is contrasted with Sri Lankan Muslims who are depicted as barbaric and uncivilised. I will also argue that this discourse is an extension of the nationalist discourse previously used to target Tamils during the Sri Lankan civil war. In this way, Sinhala Buddhist identity continues to be influenced by the Buddhist revivalism of the 1880s in which Sri Lankan Buddhism was constructed as an ideology under attack by outside forces.


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